As a vacation rental owner, you're likely already putting in a lot of time and effort to make your guests relaxed, happy, and mentally packing their bags for the next visit. But what about those few bad apples? We ran a few common scenarios by our panel of vacation rental experts to get their take on what to do with a real nightmare guest.
1. The Sneak Attacker
From all outside appearances, this guest is pleasant and average. Booking and check-in was a breeze, they made no complaints at all (maybe even offered some praise when you checked up on them during their stay), and checking out is done with a handshake and a smile. And then two weeks later, what pops up on your listing site? A three star review and a pointed comment about something small but very fixable. Maybe it was the air conditioner turning on too loudly at night, or the light over the kitchen sink flickering a little (you just can’t touch that dimmer switch). Either way, had they ever said it was a problem, you could have dealt with it. And now this criticism is up there for any potential guest to see.
James C. Sells of VR Biz Consulting urges perspective. 'There’s a good chance that even if you accommodate them completely, they are still going to find something to complain about. Nightmare guests tend to be nitpickers even though they are asking for the moon. If they do write a negative review, provide a thoughtful response about what you did to try and remedy the situation and/or what you will do next time. This will take a lot of the sting out of the negative review.'
As for the review itself, there's no shame in being direct, says Kris Getzie of Volo rental consulting. 'After you address the issues with the guest and possibly offer a small discount on a future booking, in many cases, the guest will remove (or adjust) their review and your problem will be solved. But don't be afraid to ask for them to remove the review. But if they don't, I advise that owners comment giving an overview of how you solved the problem so future guests don't have to be concerned. Proactivity is key.'
2. The Luxury Hound
You made it clear in your listing that while your property was ideally located, comfortable, and clean, you don’t call it ‘rustic charm’ for nothing. Yet this guest is pretty convinced that you’re hiding some 10,000 thread count sheets and platinum silverware around here somewhere, and they won’t hesitate to continually complain about the (perfectly good and in line with your pricing) items provided. You’re concerned that appearing unhelpful will lead to a bad review.
Chris DeBusk, author of The Vacation Rental Goldmine, suggests a conciliatory approach - to a point. 'I would reach out to this guest by phone (or in person if possible) to discuss all of areas of concern. With each item, I would let them know how I strive to deliver value with the guest amenities. If they were still concerned, I would apologize for their disappointment and likely send over some special sheets or something similar that to show how much I cared for their experience. From there, I think you have done what you can by showing concern, explaining how you work to provide quality items, and taking action to address hopefully at least one of their "issues".'
3. The Act of God
Everything about the stay is going according to plan. The guests arrive in two hours, and the rental is in tip-top shape...and then the septic tank guy shows up. Two weeks early. And says he can’t reschedule. Your guests’ ocean view is about to get a whole lot more obstructed, to say the least.
People are understanding, but they want their concerns to be taken seriously, says Kris Getzie. 'If I were confronted with this situation, I'd call them immediately to apologize for any inconvenience caused by a situation I was unaware of. I'd also detail how I will promptly take care of it and invite them back again by way of a thank you discount (I give between 5-10%, depending on the season).'
4. The ‘Forgot to Mention’
You pride yourself on being an open and accommodating host – if a guest asks for it with enough advance notice, you’ll do anything in your power to make it happen. So when this run-of-the-mill booking shows up and says ‘it’s not a problem we brought our four Tibetan Mastiffs along, is it? And Grandma Betty needs a handicap bar in the bathroom. Also, where can I plug in the RV?’ you’re a little lost for words.
Take a deep breath and then choose your battles, says James C. Sells. 'Not every hill is worth dying on. Decide what you can’t let slide and what really isn’t worth the argument. For example, charge them for the pets you didn’t know they were bringing, but let the extra vehicle slide.'
5. The One You May Have Messed Up
Of all these nightmare guest scenarios, this may be the one that keeps you up the most at night. Maybe you missed the phone call about that little fix, or didn’t clearly represent exactly how ‘rustic’ your property is. Maybe you should have triple-checked with the septic guy and paid closer attention to the forgot-to-mention’s line about ‘small accommodations’. Or maybe those all were completely out of your control. Either way, when you’re the one that’s slipped up, what’s the best way to smooth things over?
Mistakes are a opportunity to show your clients how much you care, suggests Matt Landau of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog. 'First, be ultra-honest and accept responsibility (whether your fault or not) as soon as humanly possible. After letting your guest vent, try taking a solution-oriented approach. In other words, "I made a mistake, it caused you an inconvenience, now what can I do to resolve the situation?" Vacation rental owners have a unique advantage when facing this kind of adversity because we're not professionally trained hoteliers, we're just normal people. So it's never inappropriate to play the underdog card nor utilize your own personal resources to get things smoothed over: "I've only been doing this for 6 months and sincerely apologize for forgetting to schedule your transfer. I have an extra hour, what if I take you to the airport myself?" Oftentimes your ability to resolve things becomes more memorable than the problem in the first place.'
Can every nightmare guest become a dream booking? Probably not. But by being open, accommodating, and above all careful with what's worth fighting for, you can at least wake up a wiser and more patient rental owner. Sweet dreams!